April 19, 2014

Sierra Club sues to stop construction at Presidio

On Feb. 1 the Sierra Club and the Presidio Historical Association (PHA) filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Presidio Trust to halt proposed new construction on the Main Post of the Presidio of San Francisco, the historic national park in San Francisco.

“The Presidio Trust has violated [several] statutes in its push to convert the most historically significant site in the Presidio into a luxury hotel despite nearly unanimous public opposition,” said PHA President Gary Widman. “We have no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect this national park, which belongs to all Americans.”

The suit is the first to question activities in a national park not managed by the National Park Service.

In the past the Trust maintained carefully restrictive zoning policies that protected the Main Post, but recently the Trust’s Board of Directors changed these to permit construction of various structures including a 14-building hotel and a large addition to a historic theater.

“The Sierra Club has protected national parks since 1892, and played a major role in the creation of the Presidio National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” said Sierra Club San Francisco Group chair Becky Evans. “The unique historic value of the Presidio Main Post should not be sacrificed to build an unnecessary hotel.”

In a 1986 federal lawsuit the Sierra Club won an injunction that stopped the Army from undertaking new construction in the Presidio, at that time a military base. “By filing this suit, the Sierra Club seeks affirmation of that 1986 decision and seeks the Presidio Trust’s compliance with the Presidio Trust Act and other environmental laws,” Evans said. 

The lawsuit asserts that the Presidio Trust ignored its duty to protect “the Presidio from development and uses which would destroy the historic . . . character of the area . . . and other cultural resources,” and failed to limit new construction to one-for-one replacement of demolished structures, as required by the Presidio Trust Act.

The plaintiffs also claim that the Trust’s environmental-review process under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed, and that the Trust failed to minimize adverse impacts in its National Historic Landmark District to the maximum extent possible, as required by the National Historic Preservation Act.

The Presidio Trust Act of 1996 recognized and protected the 1,491-acre Presidio of San Francisco as a unique place of history and open space in a densely populated urban center. The Main Post, established in 1776, was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1962. The Presidio was home to Spanish, Mexican, and American military operations for nearly 220 years until 1994, when it became a national park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. More than 30,000 American veterans and their families are buried in the Presidio’s national cemetery, on the western side of the Main Post.

The nonprofit Presidio Historical Association has helped to preserve and present the Presidio’s history for more than 50 years. The watchdog group recently gained attention for successfully fighting the Presidio Trust’s plan to build a massive contemporary-art museum on the historic Main Post.

The Stanford Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic is representing the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club in the lawsuit.

The complaint for case #CV12-00522, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, is posted at http://presidioassociation.org/issues.htm.

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